Dear SaaStr: What Is It Really Like to Be a CEO?

It’s not what you’d think.

It’s not:

  • A power trip. Well, it can be a power trip in some sense I guess, but not if you are doing it right. Oh, you are CEO of a 4-person startup? The glory! 🙂
  • More fun than a non-CEO role. It’s much, much more stressful, however. The buck truly stops with you.
  • More rewarding than working for a great boss. Not necessarily. Working for a great boss can be just as rewarding, without quite as much stress.
  • More lucrative than other options. Being a COO or other #2 can, risk-adjusted, be a better deal. You still get a lot of equity and don’t have to take the risk of getting something off the ground.

But the benefits are unique and include:

  • You get to implement your vision, at least the % you can with your team. You never really get to build exactly what you want (unless you write all the code yourself). But defining and executing the vision is all-consuming and intellectually challenging.
  • You are never bored. All other roles, you will be bored sometimes. But as CEO, your mind will always be working.
  • You get to pick your team. Recruiting is tough, but the benefit is you get to truly pick who you work with.
  • You get to meet great people. Other great CEOs, founders, VCs, executives, and more.
  • You have purpose.  Most founders, in fact, get a bit lost once they sell their startups, or move on as CEO.  Not all.  But in my experience, maybe most.
  • Maximum creativity. Again, you don’t really get to do exactly what you want. But being a CEO is a maximum opportunity to be creative in a business and product sense.

It’s not that glamorous, usually.

But it is unique.

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)

Published on April 9, 2022

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